The giant otter is, obviously, an otter that is really big. They live in South America. These animals were made specifically for swimming, and have several special features. First of all, their fur is very dense and water-repellent. This helps them to stay dry and not weighed down by water when they come on to the land. Their nostrils and ears close when underwater to prevent water from leaking in. Their webbed feet and wide tails help propel them through the water. One identifying factor for these mammals is the cream-colored patches on their fur. The picture below shows an individual displaying these markings. Each giant otter has a different set of markings. Their aquatic habitat and voracious appetite give the giant otter then nickname “river wolf.” All otters are in the mustelid family, which includes weasels, ferrets, and stoats.
Habitat and range
The giant otter lives only in South America. They live primarily in rain forest/jungle areas, as these are safe places with many rivers. There are three main river systems that are home to these otters: the Amazon river, the Orinoco River, and the La Plata River. They live in every South American country except Chile, Argentina, and Uruguay. As for this animal’s habitat, almost anywhere with water is suitable. Slow rivers, streams, lakes, swamps, marshes, and even flooded forests are good places to find giant otters.
As you can tell by their name, giant otters are rather big. Males are slightly larger than females and can reach up to six feet (1.8 m) in length including their tail! Although there is only about a four inch (10 cm) difference between males and females, their weight is much more different. Males weigh up to 70 pounds (32 kg) while females are only 58 pounds (26 kg) at max.
Giant otters have a large body and must therefore have a large appetite as well. Because they are aquatic, these animals eat a lot of fish. Along with fish, they consume snakes, crustaceans, caimans, turtles, and many other animals that live in the river. Giant otters often hunt in groups for a higher success rate. Although they must then share their kill, it is easier to capture larger prey or corner smaller prey. Adults must eat between six and nine pounds (3-4 kg) of meat daily!
Status and threats
The giant otter is classified as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List. There are only an estimated 5,000 of these animals left in the wild. This may not sound like a small number, but they are spread across a range the size of the lower 48 United States. Throughout the nineteen hundreds, giant otters were hunted a lot for their valuable fur. This practice was slowed down in the late 70s. Although these animals are now a protected species, some people still hunt giant otters. Habitat destruction is another threat, and some cubs are captured for the pet trade. They usually die in captivity because their owners are inexperienced.
Although not much research has been done on giant otter reproduction in the wild, much is known due to study of captive animals. Breeding season is at its height in late spring and early summer. After females mate, they carry the developing young for 65-70 days. They then give birth to 1-6 young (usually 2 or 3). These not-so-giant giant otters weigh around 7 ounces (200 g). This is about the weight of a softball, maybe a little more. Adults from the same family group and older siblings help care for the young. Often a second litter is born between December and April. This happens if not enough of the first litter survives. Giant otter cubs (the name for young giant otters) open their eyes one month after birth. By the time they are ten months old, they have already reached their adult size. Giant otters can live for up to 13 years.
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- Animal: The Definitive Visual Guide*
- The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Animals of the World: An expert reference guide to 840 amphibians, reptiles and mammals from every continent*
- Giant otter – ww.Araguaia.org
- Giant otter range – Chermundy
- Giant otter periscoping – www.Araguaia.org
- Mystery animal – Liam Quinn
*Next Door Zoo is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to amazon.com.